WOODBRIDGE - Saddled with a subpoena to nowhere - at least to date - during his 2006 U.S. Senate bid by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken) has lived with the open-ended question mark of that probe ever since.
Now Christie is running for governor and Menendez allies say the senator has a personal stake in reelecting Gov. Jon Corzine.
Testimony this week by former George W. Bush mastermind Karl Rove that Rove had political conversations with Christie while the latter served as U.S. Attorney, intensified Menendez's own questions about whether Christie pursued him politically in that 2006 battleground campaign as a way of currying favor with Bush.
Rove said the discussions he had with Christie related to New Jersey's top cop's prospective gubernatorial aspirations, but Menendez sees deeper, more troubling implications.
Going back to January of 2006, Christie's name appeared on a federal Attorney General's list of U.S. Attorneys slated for firing, then came off the list after information leaked in the middle of a contentious U.S. Senate campaign that Christie was probing Menendez.
Despite campaign time headlines about the U.S. Attorney's Office examining the Congressman-turned Senator's rental of property to a nonprofit organization receiving federal funds, Menendez defeated state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield).
But with the subpoena back story unresolved and Christie beating incumbent Democratic Gov. Corzine by nine points 81 days until Election Day, Menendez now wants a stepped-up Congressional counter probe of how Bush's AG Office and U.S. Attorney's offices such as Christie's administered justice.
"Clearly the Rove information under oath creates very serious concerns about the political process that took place at the Justice Department and U.S. Attorneys offices across the country and the effect upon those U.S. Attorneys offices," the senator said today after appearing with Gov. Jon Corzine, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park) and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at Metro Park to celebrate the state's receipt of a $298.7 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Transit Capital Grant from the feds.
"To be very honest with you, I think more needs to be done," Menendez told PolitickerNJ.com. "I think the agreement entered into by the House Judiciary Committee with Mr. Rove's attorneys were limiting in nature. I understand that there's an investigation going on by the Justice Department and I believe that investigation needs to be vigorous and I also believe that in light of the information that's come out that maybe the Senate Judiciary Committee should be looking at a continuation of what that information reveals."
Menendez said he has not had any discussions with the U.S. Attorney's Office - not personally - regarding the status of his case and whether the federal probe is officially dead.
"I think it's incumbent on the U.S. Attorney's Office to come to come to a conclusion, particularly when it involves a public official, and to let that conclusion be made public," the senator said. "That's been my position for over four years.
"Because the most important thing that every American - we just had a debate about a Supreme Court Justice, and I recite what it says above the mantle as you enter the Supreme Court - the most important thing is 'Equal Justice under Law.' That means whether you are Democrat or a Republican or an independent, you are not going to be prosecuted because of the nature of your affiliations. That's been put into question by the information that's come out."
In addition to the old story with Christie's U.S. Attorney's Office, there are several other factors converging here for Menendez that makes Corzine's reelection campaign against none other than GOP nominee Christie that much more of a crucible for the veteran Hudson County product.
"Christie almost derailed Bob's career," said a Democratic Party insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Bob takes this personally. And he won't forget what Corzine did for him. It was Corzine who named Menendez as the U.S. Senator."
Behind the scenes, Menendez has complained loudly about Corzine '09 structure, message and passion. He's been hands-on and in Corzine's face on several occasions.
Then there's other federal activity on Menendez's home turf, as late last month, the U.S. Attorney's Office zapped 29 elected officials and political operatives with corruption charges. The bulk of them came out of the Democratic Party political machinery of Menendez's own county, leaving party members to ponder bitterly the depletion of GOTV infrastructure in the lead up to Corzine v. Christie.
Menendez today denied the charges pending against multiple Hudson County street people will significantly impact voter turnout on Nov. 3rd.
"First of all, the one thing that I think everybody's missed - it's the people of Hudson County who take their involvement seriously in this and take seriously the importance of electing their representatives," Menendez said. "I am sure the citizens of Hudson County will come out in a robust way. Various entities - political as well as civic - will bring out a robust vote and I am convinced that robust vote will be for Gov. Corzine overwhelmingly."
Asked as he climbed into his car if this election is personal - given the presence of Christie as the gubernatorial candidate on the opposing side and his old ally Corzine in a war - Menendez said, "I believe that every election is personal."
Max Pizarro is a PolitickerNJ.com Reporter and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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